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FHS graduates share fond memories of the gym

Ferndale High School’s two-gym athletic facility has hosted countless pep rallies and P.E. classes. Thousands of students, parents and community members have poured into its bleachers to watch basketball, volleyball and wrestling matches.  

But this summer, the FHS athletic building will be demolished, and the Golden Eagles volleyball team will break in the school’s brand-new facilities in September. Although we are excited for our new gyms, we also wanted to let generations of FHS alumni share their cherished memories of the old FHS athletic building. 

Gary Jensen, who graduated from FHS in 1973, wrestled for the Golden Eagles. During his high school years, the current athletic facility only had one gym, because the high school had a second, smaller gym located where the library is today. At first, the wrestling team held matches in that smaller gym, but eventually, they moved to the main gym – which was a big deal, he said. 

“When we got to wrestle in the big gym, it felt like wrestling had arrived in Ferndale,” said Jensen, who later served as Ferndale’s mayor from 2007-15. 

Jensen also remembers attending Golden Eagles basketball games as a child. In particular, Ferndale’s state-qualifying basketball squad in 1965 drew huge crowds, he said. 

“The excitement of the town, it was like the movie Hoosiers,” Jensen said. “Close down the town, we’re all going to state.” 

Rebecca Mertzig, who attended FHS from 1995-99, was a guard on the Golden Eagles basketball team for all four years of high school. Although she remembers her time playing hoops in Ferndale fondly, one of her strongest memories is from a pep rally.  

In 1999, during Mertzig’s senior year, her leadership class decided to feature “spirit ninjas” at the assembly who would rappel down from the gym’s celling. Mertzig volunteered for that role, and wound up hiding in the roof of the gym for much of the assembly, until her time came, and she surprised the crowd by climbing down. 

“I broke through the paper I was hidden behind and rappelled from the top of the scaffolding down to the floor on a rope,” Mertzig said. “I was going a little slower than I liked, but I didn’t want to hurt myself. But oh my gosh, it was the best.” 

Dan Barry, who attended FHS from 1991-95, played saxophone and tuba in the pep band for many basketball games in the gym. His indoor Color Guard team, called the Winter Guard, also practiced in the gym and performed at basketball games’ halftime. 

One early morning during Barry’s freshman year, he and his friend were waiting by the FHS gym for the ski busses to arrive. While waiting, they decided to scale the gym’s rounded roof and wave to their friends from below. 

“Was it my brightest moment? Certainly not,” Barry said with a chuckle. “Was it memorable? Yeah.” 

Patti Hoelzle, FHS class of 2001, said she has spent “literally years of her life in that gym.” Not only did she play for the Golden Eagles’ volleyball and basketball teams, but she also began coaching the FHS volleyball team in 2005 – something she still does to this day. 

Hoelzle has many memories from inside the gym, from then-football coach Rick Brudwick tackling (and breaking) a wooden podium to get students hyped for a match against Lynden High School, to coaching a volleyball team so talented that they were dubbed unicorns – something the fans had fun with. 

“At our first district game, which we got to host, we had ‘Unicorn Night,’ so everyone came dressed in unicorn gear,” Hoelzle said. “The gym was packed, packed, packed – standing room only. That was a really special moment.” 

Gordy Logan, FHS class of 1991, also played basketball for the Golden Eagles (along with football and baseball). Logan said playing in FHS’ gym had an intimate feel that couldn’t be replicated on the football field or baseball diamond. 

“In basketball, as opposed to football and baseball, on the sidelines, your mom or dad or buddy might be right there,” Logan said. “We filled the stands up pretty good during my junior and senior year.” 

Hoelzle, who is also a counselor at Central Elementary School, said she had bittersweet feelings about replacing FHS’ gym. 

“We’ll have this beautiful new facility, so I am excited,” she said. “But in my heart, I’m very attached to the old gym.”